What’s all the Fuss about Parabens?

The word paraben is probably found in 80% of your lotions, shampoos, and cosmetics – either in the ingredient list or in a big label announcing “Paraben Free” on the packaging. Why should we be taking note of these ingredients?

Beyond the suspicion of links to cancer, there is proof that numerous parabens are endocrine disrupters. This is a fancy term to say that parabens send confused messengers into one of the major regulators of our body potentially disrupting our fertility, thyroid, metabolism, digestion and much more. Our endocrine system regulates numerous body functions including thyroid, reproduction and metabolism. These hormonal disrupters accumulate in our bodies and water systems through the use of pesticides, bleach, plastics and other chemicals. It is unknown if these confused messengers are being genetically passed on to our children. Since numerous other safe preservatives exist, avoiding paraben preservatives is an easy step to take.

Parabens are synthetic preservatives that have been used since the 1920’s to preserve food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. They increase shelf life by preventing the growth of bacteria, yeast, mold and fungus. They are inexpensive to manufacture and maintain their efficacy in a wide pH range. It is estimated that parabens are now found in 75-85% of the toiletries that we use regularly.

The most common versions you will see in an ingredient list are: Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Methylparaben and Propylparaben.

The controversy began with reports published between 2002 and 2004 revealing parabens to be endocrine disrupters. Larger doses of parabens in studies with rats were found to mimic estrogen and drastically disrupt normal hormone functions. Breast cancer, early maturation of females and hormonal feminization of males are only a few of the potential risks resulting from this type of disruption.

In 2005, a study in the UK found parabens in 19 out of 20 breast cancer tumors. Although studies did not determine if the ingredient was the cause of the cancer, the information was enough to send waves of alarm to consumers.

Endocrine disruption is a topic that seems to come in waves and then dissolve into vapor. The plastics, preservatives, and pesticides that we encounter every day could potentially wreak havoc on our endocrine system. They make headlines in the form of: “Is your water bottle making you fat?” … and then just as quickly disappear. Perhaps we are overwhelmed with the scope of our chemical assault. I agree that living in fear can be as damaging physically and psychologically as the very chemicals we seek to avoid. However, basic information will lead to knowledge that can ultimately assist us in making empowered decisions about the products we bring into our lives and lives our children.

The following article by Dr Mills contains a wealth of information on our endocrine system, potential environmental disruptors and advice on how to avoid exposure.


From my research on parabens and endocrine disruption, I found the following tips to be easiest to incorporate in support of a healthy life and planet.

1. Avoid parabens in your purchases. There are numerous safe alternatives to these preservatives and our dollars will vote loudly to support their replacement. Visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website for a list of chemical-free alternatives.

2. If you can’t buy all–organic food, try to pick and choose. Certain crops are more heavily sprayed than others. The following 12 fruits and veggies are among those with the highest pesticide residues: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes, pears, spinach, and potatoes. Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consuming, or peel them if they are not organically grown.

3. Support your body’s natural ability to detox by exercising and sweating on a regular basis. Try a gentle detox program a few times a year. Use a sauna or steam bath. Get regular sleep (you detoxify at night) and drink plenty of filtered water

4. Eat plenty of fiber and take a daily probiotic with bifidobacteria and Acidophilus strains in the billions.

5. If you are planning on getting pregnant and breastfeeding, be vigilant about chemicals. Don’t worry about what you can’t control but put your energy into becoming the healthiest you can right now!

6. Avoid using certain plastics. The safest plastics are marked with the recycling codes 2 ,4 and 5. Never let infants chew on soft plastic toys and never microwave food in a plastic bowl or covered in plastic wrap. A good rule of thumb is that the softer the plastic, the more chemicals.

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